SHOWTIME AT GITMO….CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen wrote a column a few days ago explaining why more and more judges are becoming skeptical of administration good faith in the conduct of military tribunals. Here’s his account of a conversation between accused terror-detainee Mustafa Ait Idr and the court officer in charge of his case:
The presiding tribunal officer accuses Idr of associating “with a known Al Qaeda operative.” The detainee says, reasonably enough: “Give me his name.” The tribunal president says: “I do not know.” Idr understandably asks: “How can I respond to this?” The tribunal president asks: “Did you know of anybody that was a member of al Qaeda?” Idr says: “No, no …”
And then Idr went to the heart of the constitutional problem, as Judge Green sees it, with an evaluation that the judge described as “piercingly accurate.”
“This is something the interrogators told me a long while ago,” Idr complains during his so-called trial. “I asked the interrogators to tell me who this person was. Then I could tell you if I might have known this person, but not if this person is a terrorist. Maybe I knew this person as a friend. Maybe it was a person that worked with me. Maybe it was a person that was on my team. But I do not know if this person is Bosnian, Indian or whatever. If you tell me the name, then I can respond and defend myself against this accusation.”
The tribunal president then responds, presumably with a straight face: “We are asking you the question and we need you to respond to what is on the unclassified summary.”
As Cohen points out, Idr may very well be a terrorist and may have been detailed properly. But finding out is the whole point of the trial, and it’s impossible for Idr to offer any kind of defense if the court won’t even produce the evidence against him. And if you’re not allowed to defend yourself, it’s not a trial, it’s just a show.